The Hero (Page 20)

Author: Robyn Carr

Rawley shook his head. “That’s them. From that camp. She’s gotta tell Mac now. And Cooper. We can’t keep ’em safe if we don’t know what or who to keep ’em safe from.”

Spencer stood up. “Rawley, let me talk to her. We were just getting around to that when the SUV turned up. She got so scared. I didn’t think she’d stay upright.”

* * *

Devon held her breath and concentrated on the kids, refusing to turn around and look back at the bar. Because of the surf, she wouldn’t be able to hear if the SUV departed. Her heart was in her throat; she was afraid as she sat there that Jacob and his men might be sneaking up on her.

She heard a familiar whistle, then Spencer’s yell. “Hey, Austin! I’m back.” And then he was sitting beside her again. “It’s okay,” he said. “He’s gone, whoever he was. He said his name was Johnson, but I have my doubts.”

“How old was he?” she asked.

“Mid-thirties, maybe. He’s looking for someone named Reese.”

She gasped. “She has a son!”

Spencer nodded. “He said she’d be with a boy and a pregnant girl.”

She gasped again. They were getting out—one or two or three at a time. But what of Laine? Was she just helping people to leave and then staying behind? And what about the other women? Laine wondered if any of the others would leave of their own volition.

But were they safe? Would she ever see them again?

“Is he the one you ran from? Johnson?” Spencer asked.

In spite of herself, she gave a laugh. “No, he works for Jacob, the leader of The Fellowship, a farming commune where I spent the past few years. He didn’t mention me? They’re not wondering where I’ve gone?”

“He didn’t mention you,” Spencer confirmed. “It’s possible you’ve been gone so long, they assume you’re far away. But what are the chances they’ll see you somewhere?”

“Pretty slim, I’d guess,” she said. “When I first arrived, there were more than twenty of us. Lately they’ve been...leaving,” she said.

“The men had some freedom—they left in those big black SUVs all the time. The women went only to the Farmers’ Market or the produce stand where we sold what we grew. Everything we needed from tampons to clothing was brought to us. I think it was Reese who made the shopping lists—she tended to run things, whether she was asked to or not. She was the eldest woman there.” She blinked. “Are you sure he’s gone? That man?”

“I think Rawley got rid of him pretty good. He was convincing—said he’d been in this town and on this beach every day and hadn’t seen any women and children that didn’t belong here. He said there weren’t any jobs or apartments or anything here—a newcomer sticks out—especially a kid or a pregnant woman. He asked for a phone number to call in case one turned up and then he got the license plate.”

“That Rawley,” she said. “We should never underestimate him.”

“There’s something about him all right...he sure doesn’t look or act like the clever dude he really is.” He draped an arm over her shoulders. “I think you’re safe. I don’t think you have to hide from those people. Just keep your eyes open, all right?” He touched the bill of her cap. “The hat is probably a good idea.”

Mercy was suddenly in her lap, whining. Sandy, hungry, cranky. Devon laughed. “A little beach goes a long way—I better get these kids home. I feel lunch and naps coming on. Talk about an interesting morning.”

On the way home Devon thought about what had happened and was reminded of the promise she had made to Scott—that if anything suspicious or noteworthy turned up regarding her past life, she would speak to the deputy.

Devon took the kids to Scott’s house and moments after she arrived, he was home. She briefly explained what had happened and asked if he would mind looking after Mercy for a while. She then called and made arrangements to meet Mac McCain at his office in town. Scott offered to go with her and have Gabriella mind the children instead, but she wanted to do this on her own. Because she was terrified.

Mac was already at the sheriff’s office when she arrived, but he was not dressed in uniform. He wore a short-sleeved knit shirt with his jeans and seemed to have been busy working on some paperwork. He looked up when she walked in and put down his pen. He stood. He gave her a nod. “Devon,” he said.

Devon was shaking as she said, “Thank you for letting me interrupt your day off. I have a few things I think you should know about.”

He gestured toward a chair that faced his desk. “Are you afraid of me?”

She gave a weak nod. “I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. At least, not knowingly. But if I’m arrested or sent to jail, away from my baby, my life is over.”

“Let’s hear what you have to say before we start worrying about worst case scenarios. How about that?”

She took a breath. “Well, it started about five years ago, after I had a run of real bad luck in the job market...” She tried watching his features and expression as she recounted the events up to this morning, when the car appeared. The telling took an hour. Mac asked a few questions. Were you held against your will? Were you told you would be punished for leaving or attempting to leave? Did you tend, grow or distribute illegal controlled substance? Are there weapons in the compound? Were there statements to the effect there would be danger to anyone who shared the secrets of the commune?

“Well, I did help gather and mix chicken manure for his men to use in the gardens and by then I knew what was in the warehouses.”

He gave her a wan smile. “Do you know what they did with it?”

“I know what he claimed to do with it—he said it was medicinal and used in healing, but he didn’t have a permit because he staunchly refuses to have any dealings with the government. By the time he said that it was all medicinal, I knew it was a lie. We lived a rich life in that commune—we had everything we needed. We women didn’t have cars or televisions or computers or jewelry, but Jacob had a house of his own, a private residence across the river. I’ve been there. He has everything a man could want.”

“Were you sexually abused?” he asked.

And she looked down into her lap. “No. He never forced anyone, to my knowledge. He seduced. He promised to share his personal utopia and care for us forever. I hadn’t been there long before I was pregnant and it was then that I realized all the children there—all tended by all the women—were Jacob’s children. He must’ve thought he was Warren Jeffs with a pot garden.”

“Did he engage in sexual activity with underage girls?”

Again she shook her head. “Everyone was over eighteen, at least during the four years I was there. I tried to leave, but he wouldn’t allow it.”

“How did he prevent you from leaving?”

“Besides a lock on the gate and a couple of men who carried guns? He said Mercy was his daughter and I couldn’t take her. The guns were downplayed—everyone claimed they were for protection from government thugs and wildlife. And I was afraid if I took my daughter and ran, we might be shot.”

“Are you afraid for your safety now, Devon?”

“Well, yes, I am. I don’t know that I have reason to be—no one has threatened me. I’ve been here for more than a month and no one has come looking for me. They seem to be looking for Reese, her son and Mariah, but maybe they decided to just let me go. The woman who suggested I run said that if things got scary, I should tell the authorities about the gardens. I know she wasn’t talking about the tomatoes....”

He sat a bit taller in his chair. “What woman was that?”

“She was with us about six months, I think. Her name was Laine.” Tears came to her eyes. “I loved her. I loved Laine. I loved Reese, too. Reese delivered Mercy. She was so good to me.”

He was quiet for a moment. He leaned forward, folding his hands on the top of his desk. “I’m going to tell my boss about this, of course. And that property isn’t in my jurisdiction, so my boss will very likely talk to someone in that county. But I haven’t heard anything here today that creates a legal problem for you. I have no reason to arrest you. But if it turns out you have valuable testimony, I think I can get protective housing.”

Her eyes grew wide. “Like secret witness stuff?”

He gave her a lopsided grin. “Like that, yes. If you need it. And I wouldn’t be surprised if someone from the sheriff’s department or another agency wanted to hear what you have to say. If that becomes necessary, we’ll be very quiet and careful about it. Have you discussed this with anyone else?”

“Rawley. A little bit. He took one look at me and knew where I was from. I’m not his cousin. He picked me up along the road and gave me a place to stay when I first left the commune. I also gave Dr. Grant a few details when I first started working for him.” She shook her head. “I have a job now. I really thought my life was getting back on the rails.”

“I think things are moving in the right direction for you,” he said. “Let’s stay calm. I have ways of learning whether Jacob and your old community are being looked at by law enforcement....”

“I have no idea what you can do,” she admitted.

He grinned. “It’s spooky sometimes. Devon, the very second you think you’re unsafe or suspicious or feeling jittery, I need you to call me and let me know. Don’t run, please—that will only make things worse. Our offices are next door to each other. We see each other almost every day as it is. We’ll check in all the time. Just go about your business, keep a sharp eye, I’ll let you know if I learn something. Now it’s time to let the police do their job.”

“You’re sure I won’t get arrested? For just being there? Because I thought there was this whole accessory thing in the law.”

“You have an advantage when you come forward,” he said. “If you’re not lying, you look safe to me. I think you can leave this with me now.”

She visibly relaxed, as if Mac’s words allowed her to think, for the first time, that the worst of her worries were now in the past.

* * *

Devon was exhausted that evening. Once she got home she locked up her little duplex, gave Mercy a bath, then had one herself while Mercy stayed close and kept throwing beach toys into her tub. She didn’t turn on many lights and they stayed mainly in the bedroom where they even had their dinner of mac and cheese sitting cross-legged on the bed. With all the windows closed up it was getting a little stuffy. By eight-thirty it was getting dusky and the sun was beginning to disappear behind clouds over the Pacific.

A light knock sounded at the front door. “Stay right here, please,” she told her daughter. With her heart pounding, she headed to her living room. As she passed the living room window, she caught sight of Spencer’s car sitting in front of the house. She leaned against the door and asked, “Spencer?”

“It’s me.”

She opened the door. He stood there in sweatpants and a sweatshirt that had the sleeves and neck cut out; his hair was all spiky and he had a shadowy beard. He smiled at her, showing those excellent white teeth and she nearly melted into a puddle of goo. She was about to ask him what he was doing there when she saw he had a toolbox in one hand and a couple of big sacks from Home Depot in the other.

“Sorry—it’s kind of late. And I have a couple of things I think you’ll need.”

“What?” she asked.

“Well, let’s see. Some of these paper shades. They’re supposed to be temporary while you’re waiting for your fancy custom blinds or shutters to be installed—but here’s a secret. They last a long time. My last neighbors—young couple living on a shoestring—had them in their windows for two years. They don’t look bad, either. And you can’t see through them. If you stand between the window and a bright light, there’s a slight silhouette.” He handed her a second, smaller bag. “Better locks. Really good locks. But this is the most important thing.” He handed her a box. “An iPhone. With a GPS and all kinds of bells and whistles.”